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Sun/JBoss Cold War heats up as JavaOne conference nears

"Fluffy buzzword compliance" is a "waste of talent", Fleury writes
Tue Apr 29 2003, 12:06
AND HE'S RIGHT - to a point. A standard is only a standard if people agree to use it, and Sun's J2EE standard isn't necessarily the best solution for Enterprise application development. Last year JBoss made a name for itself in the high-end J2EE application server market by winning the JavaWorld Editors' Choice award for "Best Java Application Server", and they did it without the standard.

Their developers' innovative features, LGPL licensing and explosive popularity have impacted the bottom lines of their competitors Sun, IBM and BEA. Finally, in good punk rock tradition, they've gone beyond the J2EE standard and declared themselves the next generation of Enterprise computing talent.

This has prompted Sun Microsystems to leverage their control over the Technology Compatibility Kit (TCK) and run a prolonged PR campaign against the Atlanta based upstart. You needn't go far these days to find negative press about the JBoss group. While it's true its server fails to comply with the Sun TCK, one of its developers has admitted in a public forum that "There are negotiations underway subject to an NDA ... for JBossGroup to get the TCK." ( Here).

When taken in context, Fleury's inflammatory remarks in his recent article WHITE indicate that he's locked in a gruesome cold war with Sun. Indeed, they go far to suggest that the heavy public criticisms recently levied against him and competitive pressures are successfully dismantling him.

In short, the hubris is setting in like gangrene down in Atlanta.

It's no secret that relations between JBoss and Sun have always been very strained. Several years ago, Sun threatened a lawsuit against Fleury if he didn't change the name of his project (then known as EJBoss), and communications have gotten progressively worse ever since. Even if secret negotiations are being entered into right now between the two groups, JBoss can't afford to comply.

You see, JBoss isn't a "Qualified Not-for-Profit" organization. Sun's "Java Specification Participation Agreement" says they've got to "qualify" if they wish to license the TCK free of charge. They can't qualify while Fleury is in the driver's seat and his company controls the fate of the JBoss project.

While we don't know how much money Sun is asking, its general counsel Larry Rosen was quoted on ZZ Net ( here) as having placed the cost "in the hundreds of thousands of dollars".

Because of this, JBoss has refused to comply with the TCK unless Sun places it under the LGPL license. This will never happen, because it would allow anyone to become J2EE compliant and limit Sun's ability to draw the lines around the app server playing field and pick the teams.

JBoss has made at least two direct demands that Sun open source the TCK and force it to stand trial in the court of public opinion as a module of the JBoss project. Of course, if this were to happen JBoss would quickly replace Sun's RI as the de facto reference implementation for J2EE.

Fleury only cares about J2EE compliance because it would increase his market share. This explains his digs at Sun. But Sun's Jonathan Schwartz is by no means an idiot (and we assure you, Sun had nothing to do with the writing of this article).

Schwartz is waging a tough media war against JBoss, but it's only increasing its name recognition. At any time JBoss could announce that it's working on certification, and steal the wind from Sun's sails, so Sun isn't going to let this happen.

We the users are left with two equally probable scenarios, neither of which are good news for Fleury.

One: Sun needs to slow down JBoss by forcing it into TCK compliance, but JBoss can't afford it. If JBoss chooses not to comply, it will remain indefinitely on the wrong side of a PR campaign. Its only option if it wishes to comply is for Marc Fleury to relinquish control over the JBoss project to an independent Not-for-Profit organization. In this case, Sun wins twice, because in addition to the reorganizational hurdles the project would also have to "waste" several months bringing their features up to spec while Sun and the other kids play catch-up.

Two: Sun files a lawsuit against JBoss. This bleeds the group's finances during a period of much needed growth and diverts their attention away from development. This would obviously be a "Bad Thing" for the developers and the users.

In the "WHITE" article Fleury tries to call its bluff. He directly challenges the validity of the J2EE spec and the Java Community Process (JCP) by extension.

Maybe he thinks that Sun will come crawling on its belly to him and beg him to use the TCK. This would threaten its legitimacy as a standard and expose it to an onslaught of criticism from the Open Source Movement. It will never happen. Even if Sun did place the TCK under the LGPL, the JBoss developers probably wouldn't work on it, or at least not on all of it.

CORBA support would be the first thing to go (and no one would ever notice).

We know better. Sun won't buckle. Fleury's "love" for open source will not weaken his former employer's grip on J2EE or make him the king of the application server market. His paper is a self-glorifying attempt to counter Sun's propaganda campaign and it shows nothing more than the depths of his desperation to remain in control of the JBoss project.

Don't assume that Sun holds all of the cards, though. Even when Sun does eventually get its way (and it will), it must still come to terms with the JBoss core developers and their tradition of pushing the J2EE spec.

Evolution cannot be stopped, and nobody pushes the evolution of software better or faster than the Open Source Movement.

Aside from fighting the onslaught of Microsoft.NET, the developers of JBoss have also raised the bar for J2EE excellence. Their refusal to lower their project's standards for Sun will ultimately benefit the entire industry.

Suppose they do implement CORBA support and complete the TCK. Name one other server that will be J2EE and .NET compliant in 2004. We can't.

Sun's contribution cannot be ignored, but if it wants it to live, it must come to terms with this simple truth: if the JCP cannot react quickly enough to meet the technical demands of the market, then it either needs an upgrade, or it needs to be replaced.

So, while reading Fleury's rhetoric, we ask you to remember one thing—this is a cold war for cold hard cash. Open source has nothing to do with it. µ


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